February 15th 2013
A local public school landed a big government grant and opened up an after-school program near UrbanPromise's program in South Camden. The school program offered computers, video games, great snacks, and a state-of-the-art gymnasium. Over night, our camp director Tony Vega saw his participant numbers dwindle. "We went from 55 kids to 15."
Tony was perplexed. "I didn't know what to do," he lamented. "We don't have computers, our heater is broken most the time, our tables are broken, and there are no video games. I realized we were no match."
But then a strange thing started happening: The kids started returning one by one to UrbanPromise's program.
"Why'd you come back?" Tony asked one of them. The young girl paused, smiled, and said: "They got lots of stuff, but it's not like this place--we're family, Mr. Tony."
I've learned one thing over all my years in youth work: "Bling" attracts children, but love retains them. Money, computers, video games and brand new sports equipment entertain, but they do not love. Humans love. And love is what every human being--especially a child--desires.
What is love? Love is listening, caring, and encouraging. Love is hanging out, love is protecting, love is praying. We need to love and be loved. It is when we love and receive love that we are truly transformed.
One of my favorite quotes to ponder as we close this first week of Lent is from a novel called The Forty Rules of Love: "Every true love and friendship is a story of unexpected transformation. If we are the same person before and after we loved, that means we have not loved enough."
So, in the words of Jesus, love one another.